Having just power-Tivo-ed through all four of the major late night shows that returned to the air tonight, two of which employed WGA writing staffs (“Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson” on CBS) and two of which, sadly, did not (“The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”) I can offer you now, a verdict.
And to accompany that verdict, here are some pics from today’s picket line at NBC. As you can see there were huge crowds picketing the network’s heavily promoted “Return of Late-Night”. And isn’t it funny how none of the publicity mentions what the shows are returning from…writer’s strike? What’s that?
Anyway, onto the shows. While old Jay and Conan tried their damndest on NBC, I gotta tell ya, man, the WGA staffed shows (who were allowed to return to work when Letterman’s company Worldwide Pants brokered an independent deal with the guild) were far superior to the lamely improvised bits that filled up much of Leno and O’Brien’s air time. And the guests…yikes?
His best “Bill Clinton with the band on Arsenio” imitation aside, the guitar-strumming Republican Presidential Candidate, Mike Huckabee was a real snooze. And Jay’s well-intentioned, but painfully unfunny auidience Q&A made Ellen Degeneres’ recent material look funny. It wasn’t entirely Jay’s fault (and in his defense, he has been really good to us folks at NBC) but man, it made for some pretty horrendous television.
Conan was a little funnier, but by the twenty minute mark, it was clear that even he was running out of steam. And when your guest is the criminally unfunny Bob Saget (host of NBC’s criminally awful “1 vs. 100” ) you don’t have very much to work with. It was like Conan’s usual show, just not as funny.
And try as they might, both Conan and Jay came across as a little desperate, trying to fill time however they could with whatever they could. Which is really never a good idea…
On the other end of the spectrum was Craig Ferguson, who I am not at all a fan of. But he was very funny and quick with the jokes, and though the total absence of guests (was no one from a third-rate CBS reality or game show available?) was kind of odd, he did make up for it by referencing the strike many times. So, kudos to you, Highlander!
And then, there was David Letterman. I’m not kidding, his first show back will someday be the stuff of TV legend. It was biting, hilarious and truly, spectacularly entertaining. Not only did he reference the strike and the fact that the WGA’s demands are beyond fair, but he actually opened the show with dancing girls with WGA picket signs. Hilarious!
And the searing strike commentary by his head writer was awesome. It is really hard to find the humor in much of what has transpired these last nine weeks, but wow, he nailed it. Christine and I were stunned that old Les Moonves even let that shit air. I mean, it was pretty incendiary stuff!
And even though Robin Williams was, as always, imminently fast-forwardable, the rest of the show more than made up for his antics. My apologies to Jimmy Kimmel, whose show we couldn’t Tivo or watch as we were busy with the others, but I hear he got up on his WGA soapbox a few times too, so, cool!
And last but far from least, I gotta say Conan and David Letterman’s rocking “strike beards” have to be seen to be believed. Seriously, they put my puny attempt at facial hair to shame in a big way.
So, rock on strike beards, long may you grow! And remember, if you’re looking for good late night TV from here on out, stick to union shows. Go, Letterman!